4/5     US title: Pierrepoint - The Last Hangman
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Adrian Shergold
scr Jeff Pope
with Timothy Spall, Juliet Stevenson, Eddie Marsan, Claire Keelan, Christopher Fulford, Tobias Menzies, Cavan Clerkin, Rodney Litchfield, Maggie Ollerenshaw, Frances Gold, Clive Francis, Elizabeth Hopley
release UK 7.Apr.06; US 1.Jun.07
05/UK Granada 1h30

Just doing his job: Spall with a convict

spall stevenson marsan

Pierrepoint It may feel so much like a companion piece to Vera Drake that you expect to see Imelda Staunton on death row, but this fact-based story about one of Britain's last hangmen is compelling, powerful filmmaking in its own right.

Albert Pierrepoint (Spall) is delighted in 1932 to become an executioner, following the footsteps of his father and uncle. He's able to completely separate work from home-life with his wife (Stevenson), who quietly figures out what he does for a living. He even has an amateur comedy double act in the local pub with his pal "Tish" (Marsan). He's so good at his job that after the war he's sent to Nuremberg to hang rather a lot of Nazis. This turns him into a reluctant public hero, and starts him thinking about his job.

The story may sound gloomy and grisly, and at times it is. But it's also enlightening and thoughtfully made, with a sharply intelligent script and bracingly honest performances. Spall is absolutely riveting in the central role--likeable, engaging and also subtly shaded as he combines Albert's compassion and practicality. Stevenson is rock-solid in a repressed but expressive role. And Marsan lights up the screen whenever he appears.

The filmmakers assemble the story in a gritty, emotional style. The straightforward chronology, tame black humour and elegant period detail make it feel like a TV movie; but there's depth here, and on the big screen the film's shadows and noises are unnerving. And then there's the story itself, which beautifully highlights Albert's meticulous approach to the task, his pride in a job well done and his crisp way of keeping things in perspective.

So when the plot delivers its gut-punch we are as badly shaken as he is. This stunner of a sequence leaves us utterly breathless, forced to examine the issue in a completely new way. And like Albert we're haunted by the implications. This is riveting, provocative filmmaking that really grapples with the issue of capital punshment--and much more--but in an unobtrusive way that lets us engage our own brains. In that sense, it's utterly essential viewing.

cert 15 strong themes, violence, brief nudity, sexuality 30.Jan.06

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Pierrepoint Robert Glasier, Edinburgh: 5/5 "It's one of the most powerful but yet beautiful films I have seen in a long time. Timothy Spall’s performance is nothing short of mesmerising without overshadowing any of the other cast, most notably those of Juliet Stevenson and Eddie Marsan. Pierrepoint hanged many hundreds of people during his ‘career’ and watching the film, you feel that you have witnessed every one of them but somehow it does not become monotonous or repetitive, almost like each death was as important as the one before it, a feeling that Albert must have felt himself. The film asks you to think about the subject matter and the feelings of all those concerned with it. A film with such a brutal subject matter can rarely be described as beautiful but that is exactly what it is. For those who like a film that asks more questions than it answers and who are mature enough to deal with a subject of this type then it is a must see." (13.Apr.06)

Carol, Preston: 5/5 "Yes I know the film doesn't sound like a bundle of fun and I can't say I 'enjoyed'" it because of the subject matter. But its one of those films that appealed to me because its something different to the mainstream run-of-the-mill stuff. Pierrepoint was a person who went about his work with a quiet dignity. So many film characters are so 2 dimensional. Thank god Hollywood didn't get hold of this story! The film leaves you thinking on lots of questions about the whole punishment thing when you've finished watching the film. Theres no cheap thrills, sensationlism, sentimentality - its a story simply told without making judgement. The casting is great. Timothy Spall plays Pierrepoint. He's just amazing." (9.May.06)

Pierrepoint Bucky, NZ: 3/5 "This film really worries me, there is a danger that it is going to become accepted as a factual account to be used as an argument against capital punishment. The film is totally disingenuous right up to the use of the well-known anti-capital punishment quote from Albert PierrepointÕs auto biography. While he believed it at the time, no-one bothers to tell then end of that story, the fact is he changed his mind and generally remained undecided on the topic. Then there is the manipulation of 'facts' and events, for example he did not get upset about the lack of a 13th coffin in Belson and one was never produced, the 13th criminal was wrapped in hessian prior to burial. Sure see the film but see it as total fiction, Pierrepoint would be turning in his grave at this misrepresentation of him and many of the events." (25.Dec.07

© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall